Home' Teacher : March 2011 Contents LEADERSHIP 59
committed. While most parents and the
wider community are likely to agree that
there should be consequences, guidelines
for the police and the courts as to how such
matters should be handled would be very
The law may need to be modified with
respect to school staff, and a policy drawn
up with clear guidelines for dealing with
underage sexual images, should staff
encounter them. Suppose, for example,
a boy approaches a male teacher, having
been sent an image of a girl in his class by
another boy. The teacher views the image,
then downloads it onto his computer as evi-
dence before telling the boy to delete the
image from his phone.
A more experienced, or wary, teacher,
might take the boy immediately to the
principal, with the phone still in his posses-
sion, and call the police, who would then be
responsible for inter viewing the child and
viewing the contents of the phone.
The first teacher may well fall foul of the
current laws and potentially face a charge of
possessing child pornography himself. The
second teacher, by involving the principal
and the police, may be on safer ground, but
his actions may currently have heavy conse-
quences for the children involved. My point
here is that schools need to have a policy
in place with guidelines that complement
those of the police and social services, and
that school staff need to be aware of the
appropriate action to take should a case of
sexting come to light.
I would certainly urge schools to be
proactive and consider the policy impli-
cations rather than having to react with
uncertainty in what can be very distressing
The need for education
By the time the current generation of chil-
dren become parents themselves, they may
have a better understanding of the natu re
of modern communication technology.
Currently, many teens hold two opposing
beliefs, that the internet gives them a wide,
public audience, yet also that the internet
is a personal and private realm where they
can experiment with their character, be who
they want and do what they want.
The reason for these opposing beliefs is
simple: teens tend to assume that the author-
ity figures in their lives, parents and teach-
ers, are not online or not part of the internet
audience they engage. Anonymity and there-
fore privacy are also often assumed, pri-
vacy perhaps more so in the case of mobile
phones, where images sent between phones
are not generally visible to a public audi-
The need to educate parents about risky
behaviours such as sexting is evident, and
it needs to be done without the media ten-
dency to highlight the worst-case scenario
and incite panicked responses. Parents and,
in turn, schools where appropriate, need to
educate the children in their care.
In this case, teens need to understand
both the permanency, and the exponential
distribution potential, of digital images.
While in the short term, knowing that send-
ing nude images of themselves is illegal may
give some pause, and open discussion, in
the longer term teens need to be aware of
the possible consequences of taking a ris-
qué photograph in the privacy of their own
For educational purposes, examples for
discussion are not hard to find. Sport and
entertainment seem to provide examples on
a regular basis, although care is needed in
how cases involving named individuals are
handled in the classroom. The key message
to get across is that as soon as anyone sends
an image to a romantic partner, or allows an
image to be taken, the sender has no control
over what may happen to that image, either
now or in six months time. The viral nature
of the internet is difficult if not impossible
In relationships, too, teens need to under-
stand which lines are advisable not to cross.
Both boys and girls need to know that it's
not acceptable to ask for a nude image of a
partner or friend.
Modern technology remains a tool to be
used, and for the most part com munication
technologies and the social uses to which
they are put provide relatively safe environ-
ments in which teens can explore relation-
ships. Teen romance will no doubt remain
a source of much angst and confusion, but
if an awareness of the ramifications of sext-
ing gives young people pause to think about
their actions before acting on impulse, at
least one area of potential heartache -- and
an inadvertent criminal record -- might be
Paul Weldon is a Research Fellow in
the Teaching, Lear ning and Leadership
division at the Au stralian Council for
Educational Research. Prior to this he
was Research Associate at Indepe ndent
Schools Victoria. He has also been a mem -
ber of the Australian Communic ation s
and Media Authority's Cybersafety
Battersby, L. (2008). Alarm at teenage
'sexting' traffic. (10 July.) The Age.
Carey, A. (2010). 'Sexting' teens breach
child porn law. (10 Dece mber.) The Age.
Carey, A. & Ritchie, L. (2010).
Accidental crimes: Mobile phone use puts
teens at risk of child porn charges. (10
Dece mber.) Bunbury Mail.
Lake, C . (2009). Girl, 14, faces porn
charge of MySpace pictures of herself. (27
March.) Perth Now.
Lenhart, A. (2009). Teens and Sexting.
Washington, DC: Pew Internet &
Americ an Life Project.
na. (2010). Teens enter guilty plea to
sexual assault charges. (3 December.)
Noon an, A. & Mosc aritolo, M. (2009).
Police warn teens: 'sexting' is a crime. (12
May.) The Advertiser.
Ritchie, L. (2010). Sexting ruins lives,
says father. (22 September.) Bunbury
Weldon, P. (2009). The AISV
CyberCulture Sur vey (Research Brief
No. 3.01). Melbourne: Association of
Independent Schools Victoria.
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